Hamsters are well-known for their unique personalities and quirky behaviors. One of the interesting things you might observe your hamster doing is called coprophagy, or eating its poop. This might initially seem repulsive or unsanitary to us as humans, but it’s important to understand that a hamster eating its poop is a natural and healthy behavior.
- Overview: Poop-Eating in Hamsters
- What is Coprophagy in Hamsters?
- How Does Digestion in Hamsters Work?
- Stopping a Hamster from Eating Its Poop
- Should You Remove Hamster Poop from the Enclosure?
- What if a Hamster is Eating Non-Cecotrope Feces?
- Common Misconceptions about Coprophagy in Hamsters
- Promoting a Healthy Environment for Coprophagy
In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons behind your hamster’s poop-eating habit, dispel common misconceptions, and provide detailed guidance for hamster owners who notice this behavior in their hammy.
Overview: Poop-Eating in Hamsters
It is completely normal and healthy for your hamster to eat its own poop. In fact, doing so is important in helping a hamster absorb critical nutrients.
Specifically, eating its poop helps a hamster absorb these nutrients (The ISME Journal):
- Amino acids
- B vitamins
- Vitamin K
- Fatty acids
- Trace elements
These nutrients aren’t fully absorbed by the hamster’s digestive system on the first pass because of the way a hamster’s digestive system works (we’ll explain the digestive process of hamsters in more detail later in this article).
B vitamins are an especially important nutrient that hamsters get from eating their poop, as these are produced during the digestion process but mostly excreted in the feces (Institute on Environmental Toxicology).
Eating its poop also helps a hamster maintain a healthy microbiome, or balance the bacteria in its gut that is essential for breaking down and absorbing nutrition.
What is Coprophagy in Hamsters?
Coprophagy is the act of an animal consuming feces—either its own or that of another animal. Various animal species consume their own droppings, including hamsters and other rodents like rats, mice, and gerbils.
It’s important to know, however, that hamsters typically only consume a specific type of poop known as cecotropes or moist feces.
Hamsters produce two types of feces: moist and dry.
- Moist feces, also known as cecotropes, are soft, sticky pellets produced during the digestive process. These are typically produced at night or in the early morning, so they’re sometimes referred to as “night feces.” This is the type of feces that your hamster needs to eat occasionally in order to thrive.
- Dry feces, on the other hand, are harder, compact pellets. These are the droppings you’ll typically see in your hamster’s enclosure and are used to cleaning up through spot-cleaning.
How Does Digestion in Hamsters Work?
If you want to know more about how digestion works for hamsters and why coprophagy is an important part of meeting their nutritional needs, here are the different stages of digestion in hamsters:
Hamsters have two connected stomach compartments: the forestomach and the glandular stomach.
The forestomach of a hamster is used for briefly storing and moistening food. It also has a high bacteria count that begins fermenting the food. The forestomach allows hamsters to gain nutrition from fibrous sources like grass.
2. Small intestine
The small intestine produces various digestive enzymes, including amylase, lipase, and proteases, which further break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, respectively.
Nutrients such as simple sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals are absorbed into the bloodstream through the villi.
This is where the hamster’s digestive process is unique. Almost all mammals have a structure called the cecum in between the small and large intestines. However, in hamsters, the cecum is larger and more important.
Within the cecum, bacteria and other microorganisms break down fibrous materials using fermentation. This process produces cecotropes, which are small, soft, and nutrient-rich pellets.
4. Large intestine
After passing through the small intestine and the cecum, the remaining undigested and unabsorbed material enters the large intestine.
Here, water and electrolytes are reabsorbed, and the remaining waste material begins to solidify. Very little nutrient absorption happens in the large intestine.
5. Cecotrope consumption
Consuming their cecotropes allows for the absorption of essential nutrients and vitamins produced during fermentation in the cecum.
When the hamster re-ingests the cecotropes, the nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, fatty acids, and fiber, are absorbed in the small intestine.
This secondary digestion and absorption process maximizes nutrient utilization and helps meet the hamster’s nutritional requirements.
Stopping a Hamster from Eating Its Poop
If the idea of your hamster eating its droppings makes you feel queasy, you might be wondering if there’s a way to stop this behavior.
However, you should never try to prevent your hamster from eating its poop.
Studies have found that preventing a rodent from engaging in coprophagy leads to decreased weight and even cognitive impairment. These effects are lessened by feeding a hamster a fortified diet rich in B vitamins, but it’s still not advisable.
Thankfully, your hamster will usually produce and consume cecotropes at night, so you won’t normally have to watch them engage in this slightly unsavory (to us) practice.
Should You Remove Hamster Poop from the Enclosure?
If hamsters need to eat some of their feces in order to stay healthy and happy, is it safe or humane to remove the hamster’s droppings from its enclosure?
Fortunately, yes: you should still spot-clean your hamster’s enclosure by removing visible droppings and wet bedding.
Hamsters only consume some of their poop: the soft feces called cecotropes. They do not need to consume their regular, dry droppings to maintain healthy nutrition.
What if a Hamster is Eating Non-Cecotrope Feces?
If you’ve noticed that your hamster is eating its regular, dry feces, you might be concerned that this isn’t normal. It is true that hamsters should only be eating their soft feces, but you’ll often see hamsters picking up dry feces in their mouths, as well.
This is because hamsters sometimes store dry feces in their pouches and move them to a different part of their enclosure. Your hamster might have a “bathroom” corner where it prefers to store its feces.
Your hamster might even choose to store its dry feces with its food. This is completely normal and sanitary. There is nothing in your hamster’s dry feces that’s harmful to them, and the feces won’t contaminate their food or make it unsafe to eat.
Common Misconceptions about Coprophagy in Hamsters
Now let’s tackle the common myths that pop up around the topic of coprophagy or poop-eating in hamsters.
It’s an indicator of poor diet or malnutrition
Contrary to popular belief, coprophagy in hamsters is not a sign of a poor diet or malnutrition. It’s a natural behavior deeply rooted in their evolutionary biology.
So even if your hamster is getting absolutely everything it needs from its diet, including B vitamins and probiotics, your hamster will still eat its poop occasionally.
Of course, it’s still essential to provide a well-balanced diet to ensure your hamster receives all of its necessary nutrients.
It’s an unsanitary behavior
Although coprophagy may seem unsanitary to humans, it is a hygienic behavior for hamsters.
They have evolved to engage in coprophagy as part of their natural digestive process, and it plays a vital role in their overall health and well-being.
Your hamster eating its poop will not lead to any diseases or cause any other negative consequences.
It’s a sign of stress or boredom
A hamster eating its poop is not a sign that the hammy is stressed or bored. In fact, this natural behavior is a sign that your hamster is happy, healthy, and at ease in its environment.
Promoting a Healthy Environment for Coprophagy
Coprophagia is an important factor in a hamster’s health. So how can you provide an environment that ensures your hamster benefits from this natural instinct?
Provide a balanced diet
To support coprophagy and ensure the overall health of your hamster, it’s crucial to provide a well-balanced diet.
This diet should mimic their natural nutritional requirements and be rich in fiber, proteins, and essential vitamins and minerals.
Encourage natural behaviors
Creating an environment that encourages natural behaviors can contribute to the overall well-being of your hamster.
Provide opportunities for exercise, including a spacious tank or enclosure and an exercise wheel. They should also have 10+ inches of bedding in at least ⅓ of their enclosure for digging and burrowing.
Additionally, offering chew toys helps keep their teeth healthy and satisfies their natural instinct to chew.
Stress can disrupt normal behavior patterns, including coprophagy. Ensure your hamster’s habitat is comfortable, quiet, and free from disturbances.
Don’t wake your hamster while it’s resting or force handling or time outside the enclosure if your hamster isn’t comfortable with it.
You should also make sure that predator animals, such as cats and dogs, don’t have direct access to the hamster’s enclosure.
It’s Healthy for a Hamster to Eat Its Poop
Understanding the scientific reasons behind the hamster behavior of eating poop can help to dispel common misconceptions and provide hamster owners with the knowledge to support their pets’ well-being.
By providing a balanced diet, a stimulating environment, and minimizing stress, you can contribute to the overall health and happiness of your beloved hamster companion.
Remember, coprophagy is a normal aspect of their biology, serving important physiological functions for their digestive system and overall vitality.
- Bo TB, Zhang XY, Kohl KD, Wen J, Tian SJ, Wang DH. “Coprophagy prevention alters microbiome, metabolism, neurochemistry, and cognitive behavior in a small mammal.” ISME J. 14 October 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7490276/
- Ebino, Koichi Y. “Studies on Coprophagy in Experimental Animals Toxicology Division.” Institute of Environmental Toxicology. 1993. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/expanim1978/42/1/42_1_1/_pdf
- Marounek, Milan, Mrázek, Jakub, Volek, Zdeněk, Skřivanová, Eva and Killer, Jiří. “Pregastric and caecal fermentation pattern in Syrian hamsters” Mammalia 80, no. 1 (2016): 83-89. https://doi.org/10.1515/mammalia-2014-0109
- Murray, Kathleen A. “The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents.” (Chapter 27.) Elsevier, Inc. 2012. https://scholar.cu.edu.eg/?q=wafaaabdelghany/files/anatomy_of_hamster_1.pdf